Neck bolts or no neck bolts, Frankenstein has been one of the most popular characters in the entire history of pop culture. Movies, television and all other manner of media can’t resist going back and re-telling the story first written by Mary Shelley in her 1818 novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
In fact, the next big budget adaptation is just around the corner: Victor Frankenstein, which stars James McAvoy as the “good” doctor and Daniel Radcliffe as a remarkably less-hunchbacked Igor, opens Nov. 25.
And it’s not the only one. In yet another case of dueling movies, a second update to story, simply titled Frankenstein and starring Danny Huston and Carrie-Anne Moss, hit theaters this past summer. Dueling Frankensteins! (Heck, that should be a movie, too.)
This week, we’re looking at some of the stranger adaptations to mutate out of the original novel. Boris Karloff’s performance in the 1931 film may have shaped pop culture’s conception about what the monster should look like, but subsequent adaptations have spun the idea in all manner of weird directions.
Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Seventeen years after Boris Karloff first played the monster onscreen, he’d become familiar enough that audiences were ready to laugh at him – along with Dracula (played by Bela Lugosi) and the Wolf Man (played by Lon Chaney Jr.) Also, the Dr. Frankenstein character doesn’t appear. This would be one instance where Frankenstein refers to the monster, not the man who created the monster.
The Munsters (1964)
Everyone knows The Munsters, but have you ever stopped and considered the strangeness of its premise? A Frankenstein’s monster (but not the Frankenstein’s monster) is married to a lady Dracula, and they live in suburban California. Somehow, their child is a werewolf. Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller updated the Munsters with a one-off TV movie, Mockingbird Lane, in 2012 with Jerry O’Connell as Herman Munster and Portia de Rossi as Lily.
Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
In case you’re wondering what kind of movie this is, know that it’s known as Frankenstein versus Subterranean Monster Baragon in Japan. Yes, it’s a kaiju film – giant monsters played by guys in rubber suits fighting and toppling the Japanese skyline in the process. Why? Why not! It even has a sequel, The War of the Gargantuas, which features some Frankenstein-on-Frankenstein action and stars Russ Tamblyn of West Side Story fame.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)
Yep, an actual movie. If your response is “Come on, now you’re just pulling names out of a hat,” you’re not alone.
Blackenstein, the Black Frankenstein (1973)
Most people have heard of Blacula. Lesser known is the blacksploitation take on the Frankenstein story, Blackenstein. It’s basically exactly what you would think, based on the title, with the only exception being that Blackenstein isn’t raised from the dead. It also inspired a Saturday Night Live sketch that features Nicki Minaj as the Bride of Blackenstein.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
In what might be one of the greatest legacies of Shelley’s novel, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein takes the comedy of the Abbot and Costello to sublimely absurd new levels. Mary Shelley would have never imagined it, but we’d like to think she’d have been proud.
Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1974)
Warning: This trailer may be NSFW. Leave it to Andy Warhol, who produced this film but didn’t direct it, to add the one element that had been missing from all adaptations before and since: explicit sex! No, really. It’s certainly not a family film, but it’s a spectacle nonetheless. The same year, Warhol also produced a similarly lurid Dracula adaptation.
It’s easy to overlook with everything else going on in this rock-musical and all the other classic horror films getting shout-outs, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show is just a glammed-up version of Frankenstein, with the creature being a musclebound go-go boy rather than a hulking thing with bolts in its neck. In fact, even though the movie is ostensibly about its Dr. Frankenstein character, Frank-n-Furter (Tim Curry), the movie is named after the creature himself, Rocky Horror.
Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie (1984)
A purported comedy centered around, well, exactly what the title implies. Aunt Tillie is played by French actress Yvonne Furneaux, who counts the classic La Dolce Vita among her starring roles, and Dr. Frankenstein is played Donald Pleasance, best known for the Halloween movies. Yes, it’s really weird. No, we don’t get it either.
The Bride (1985)
Another Frankenstein adaptation that sounds like something you dreamed after you took too much cold medication, but it happened, and it’s actually not bad. In this retelling of The Bride of Frankenstein, the sequel to the 1930 Frankenstein, the Dr. Frankenstein character (Sting) creates a wife for his monster, but the resulting she-creature (Jennifer Beals) is too perfect – and too beautiful. She rejects the monster, and Dr. Frankenstein, in turn falls in love with her.
Monster Mash: The Movie (1995)
Hey, remember that song "The Monster Mash"? Well, they made a whole movie out of it, with the song’s writer and singer, Bobby “Boris” Picket, playing Dr. Frankenstein. Candace Cameron, of all people, plays half of the teenage human couple that stumbles into the monster party. And yes, it’s a musical.
This Tim Burton stop-motion film, itself a remake of a live action short he’d made in 1984, reimagines Victor Frankenstein as a child science prodigy who loves his pet dog, the aptly named Sparky, at the expense of everything and everyone else. When Sparky dies, Victor finds a way to bring him back – but just as the original mad scientist learned, there are consequences to mucking around when it comes to life and death.
I, Frankenstein (2014)
An imagined conversation:
– Hey, has Frankenstein’s monster been a superhero yet?
– No, don’t think so.
– Could he battle demons?
– Gee, why not?
– Rad. Let’s have Aaron Eckhart play him.
– I’m down with that. Hey, where do you want to go for lunch?